BC think-tanks call for conservation-oriented water pricing

Elizabeth Brubaker

A new report from the two British Columbia research institutes recommends pricing water to encourage its conservation and re-use.

In From Stream to Steam, the University of Victoria’s POLIS Project and the Canadian Centre for Policy Alternatives look at the “nexus” of water and energy – the interconnections between these resources, and their mutual stresses. It warns of an approaching crisis, blaming poor provincial management – especially lax water-metering and reporting requirements and low water-use fees.

The report, released in November, examines municipal, agricultural, and industrial water uses. On the municipal side, it features a case study of Abbotsford and Mission, two BC communities that share a water and sewage commission and are considering developing a new water source to meet growing demand. The report suggests that conservation could delay the need for a new water source and calls pricing “an obvious prerequisite to significant conservation gains.” It backs up this claim with local evidence: In Mission, where water users pay a flat rate, water use is on average 50 percent higher than it is Abbotsford, where water charges are tied to water use.

The report also looks at the large amounts of water used in hydraulic fracturing (“fracking”) for shale gas. In BC, frackers relying on short-term withdrawal permits may pay nothing for their water. Those using longer-term water licences may pay just a token amount – $2.75 for every 2,500 cubic metres. (In contrast, industrial water users in Quebec pay 63 times that amount.) Higher water prices would encourage conservation and innovation. Frackers would be more likely to use saline water rather than fresh water (for which there are more competing demands) and to re-use the fracking water that flows back out of their wells.

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